Electronic Journal Exchanges

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David Gibson
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Electronic Journal Exchanges

Post by David Gibson » Mon 08 Jul 2013 11:39

BCRA exchanges printed journals with approximately 40 organisations around the world. We send Cave & Karst Science and/or Speleology and receive similar periodicals in exchange, which are stored in the British Caving Library. We have recently begun to think about how we would process electronic journal exchanges. Sending and receiving digital files obviously saves postage, but where do we store the files and how do we guarantee their longevity? One could say that the whole purpose of the Internet is that we do not have to store anything; all we need to do is to make a note of the URL of the item. At the other extreme, some people would suggest that we should make a printed copy of everything we download, so it can be stored on paper, which may be a more reliable method of long-term storage. The purpose of these notes is to give a few broad guidelines to organisations wanting to operate electronic journal exchanges with BCRA, and to invite discussion.

Receiving Material from BCRA
We have decided that we will not issue our periodicals electronically on physical media (such as on a CD or USB stick) nor, in general, will we email them to anyone. The material is available on our web site for download; usually in PDF format. Our usual practice is to issue a user-id and access code to the organisation with which we are exchanging. The organisation is expected to subscribe to our Notices List in order to find out when an item has been published. It is possible (but currently not guaranteed) that we could contact our exchange partners directly, by email, when an item is published. However, one philosophy (followed by me, personally, but not embraced by everyone) is that customers should manage their own email subscriptions to a Mailing List rather than be contacted at an address from our journal subscription records, which may be out of date.

Sending Material to BCRA
What Media Will We Accept?
This area is a lot more difficult to define because, in part, it depends on what people are willing to send us and how our volunteers are prepared to deal with it. In general, our Journal Exchanges are a 'like for like' exchange, both in quality and content. For an electronic publication, 'quality' would refer to the type of media and its data format. So, for example, we would be looking for a non-proprietary and 'portable' document format. Modern versions of Microsoft Word are based around XML, so they are 'non-proprietary', but Word is still very much not a portable format and is not something we would normally consider acceptable. In practical terms, Adobe's PDF is the format of choice. However, it must be noted that, despite its name (Portable Document Format), PDFs are not always portable - it is important to embed all fonts and to only use PostScript fonts; not TrueType. The format PDF-A is intended for archiving purposes.

Having said that, there are some further points that must be stressed. Firstly, this is not about "what is the best format for publishing?"; its about "what does BCRA want to use in its Journal Exchanges?". There are no doubt some excellent documents in HTML format, or even in plain text, that should be distributed and archived (i.e. "published"), but that is a wider topic than we can discuss here, where we are simply considering the exchange of a similar quality of publication for storage in our library. The second point is that BCRA itself does not necessarily meet the above suggestion of PDF-A format. Like most caving organisations, BCRA is run by volunteers and, whilst we might aspire to do things a certain way, that often does not happen, for a number of reasons. Although if, as a long-term goal, we all recognised PDF-A, that would be a good start.

How to Send Material to BCRA
A policy on this has not yet been decided. Given our preference for asking our Exchange Partners to download from our web-site, you may wish to do similar. The person to contact is the Librarian. If the librarian needs to subscribe to a Mailing List (as we advise when we are doing the sending) please let her know.

How Will We Store the Material?
We have a cloud storage site where we intend to store library data, and which will be subject to automatic backup. One point yet to be discussed with our Exchange Partners is whether this material should be publicly available (and, e.g. linked to our online library catalogue) or whether you would prefer a controlled access (e.g. to BCRA members only). It is not our intention to store optical media (CDs, DVDs) in archival conditions. The lifetime of a CDR may be as low as eight years (see Data Longevity on CD ROMs), so we intend to copy such items (if, indeed, we receive them as part of an exchange) into online cloud storage. However, it is recognised that for long-term storage, archival optical media would probably be a better option. For very long term storage, paper is still good.

How Will We Print the Material?
Amongst the volunteers that comprise BCRA, this is probably the most contentious point. Are we operating an 'electronic' exchange, or are we simply using the Internet as a means to transport material that is going to be printed and stored on paper? There is still a significant school of thought in BCRA that we should have paper copies in our library, which means we will want to print your item. I should stress that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' to argue over, here. It is simply a question of what a volunteer wants to do. If we had a volunteer whose aim in life was to collect as much electronic content as possible - from 'serious' publications to web pages and online chat - and to archive it online for posterity, that is a laudable aim - but it is not what we are specifically discussing here.

These days, certainly in the larger cities in England, high-street print shops can take a PDF formatted as multiple A4 pages and produce, more or less at the single click of a button, a complete magazine, printed on A3 pages, folded, stapled and cropped. BCRA's CREG Journal is printed via this route by Peregrine Print in Bradford. There are online print shops that will do similar - we use Lulu to print small quantities (down to one-offs) of some of our Cave Studies series booklets. However, there are a number of potential problems with printing files received from our Exchange Partners...
  • What is the colour profile of the printer? Does it match the colour profile of the PDF?
  • Does the PDF use 'safe' fonts or does it contain TrueType fonts, which may not print correctly and which may corrupt the layout?
  • Is there a 'bleed' to contend with?
  • Can the printer only print a single-sided cover (e.g. at Lulu) ?
  • Does the cover require a different bleed to the inside pages?
Any of the above problems could cause the document to be a poor replica of the original. At BCRA we have had to contend with colour-shift problems and font corruption even when using our own locally-generated PDFs, which do not always reproduce correctly at our printers. We are still learning. Perhaps the most serious problems, though, are i) 'bleed', and ii) only being able to print single-sided covers at Lulu.

Concluding Remarks
Having outlined the process of printing the document, Im not sure where BCRA is going with this. If a document is sent to us that does not print well - e.g. colour profile, bleed - do we i) "make do", ii) refuse the exchange or iii) accept that this is an electronic exchange, with no paper copy? I think we have still to discuss that and reach a decision. And who takes responsibility for printing the items?

If we want to promote electronic exchanges of 'quality' journals then I would tentatively offer the following suggestions to our Exchange Partners. This is only my personal view and it should be understood that BCRA itself does not comply with most of this - so I can hardly expect anybody else to.
  • Use PDF-A document format, with embedded PostScript fonts
  • Do not use full bleed anywhere within the magazine
  • The front and back covers should be single-sided (i.e. inside front cover and inside back cover should be blank)
  • Consider publishing a separate wrap-around cover (which may be full-bleed), in accordance with Lulu's specification
  • Consider making your publication available via one of the online printing companies (e.g. Lulu). Not only can individuals order paper copies from you without your needing to hold stock, but electronic copies can also be downloaded.